Sunday, May 19, 2013
My beekeeping partner's partner Andrea came down to the bee yard on Friday night. It was her first visit ever.
We actually don't get as many visitors as you might think so it is always special when someone joins us but this was extra special. None of us would have expected Andrea to make a visit on an evening when we had so much to do and there would be strictly seasonal activity going on that we don't do very often.
For example, we had a totally unexpected opportunity to get another package of bees. We had settled on four hives but when it was looking like The Turquoise Bee was going to parish we seized the opportunity when Nature's Nectar, a local beekeeping business ordered 100 additional packages and put them up for sale. So, Andrea got to see us hive a new package and release a queen which really only happens in the early spring.
She also got to see the Queen in Katrina's Drone Den. Now that only two out of five hives have marked Queens it is harder to find them but we did get a good look at one of the marked Queens which I still find exciting!
More importantly though Andrea took some photos of Paula and I working the hives and just being with each other. We don't have many, if any photos of the two of us together so it was really special to get these pictures.
I didn't even know Andrea was taking pictures of us. We had a wee bit of syrup left that we gave to the bees and checked all the other hives.
In this picture we just finished putting the second brood box on Patrick's Pollinator. You may not be able to appreciate the joy in our faces. We had just finished inspecting all of the hives and were really thrilled with our findings and now busting with enthusiasm and joy.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
We had a stellar visit to the bee yard last night! Paula's partner Andrea joined us for her first ever visit to The Flight of The Turquoise Bee Apiary in four years. I think she brought some really good karma along because every single hive has made progress.
We didn't even look inside Patrick's Pollinator, we know those girls are doing well. We did add a second brood box onto the hive. Once the brood nest is 80% full it is important to give the Queen more room to lay by adding another box. The second box is full of frames that are combed out, packed with pollen and just a tiny bit of honey. That should draw the Queen and the bees up to the new box and hopefully in about 10 days we will find new capped brood up there.
Katraina's Drone Den is making progress and we found her marked Queen easily. I would still like to see more effort in this hive but I was darn happy to see more brood.
Colleen's Royal Ruckus is doing well, nice brood, not a tun but a nice patter and a good start.
Now for the really good news! The Turquoise Bee has a frame or two of really nice looking brood. A really good sign that the Queen we put in there two plus weeks ago is health and laying. We didn't see an abundance of drone brood which means more than likely we have tempered the laying workers and turned the hive around. I am guessing that the huge cells we saw last week that really looked like queen cups to me were in fact just really big drone brood. To that point, all those cells were hatched out without any torn ends, another sign that it was drone. I also saw some really huge drones. So I am feeling might good about that hive.
In my moment of panic about that hive I snatched a surreal opportunity to get a late season package and we put those girls in last night. Her name is in the works and we will unveil that hopefully next week.
So, I am flying high so to speak!
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
It has been a very arduous week for me! Between two days of really intensive chemo-bio therapy and a big exam and the final week of activities at the Capital culminating in the legalization of marriage equality I am spent. In the midst of all this of course the bees were acting up as well!
Paula and I went to check on the girls last Saturday after work. It was really cold and windy, probably not the best day to check on them but given the week in front of me it was the only option. We opted not to use smoke because of the wind. It was a little early to check on Colleen's Royal Ruckus. We put them in the hive a week prior and I like to wait about 10 days before checking for queen acceptance and brood. Sure enough, we really couldn't appreciate anything, nor could we find her unmarked queen. We also took a peek into Katrina's Drone Den, found the Queen and discovered very little progress and minimal brood. Frankly I would have like to have seen a better brood pattern and more brood. I am just stymied about these Queens. Patrick's Pollinator is laying up a storm of healthy brood with an excellent pattern. You can see this in the video above. Both these hives were installed on the same day so why such a difference in the brood. I am hoping we don't have an ill mated Queen on our hands in Katrina's Drone Den. She isn't a drone layer but she isn't laying much either. We also captured a beautiful photo of the Queen in Patrick's Pollinator.
Finally we checked on our most troubled hive The Turquoise Bee. You may remember a week earlier we took out a drone laying Queen and replaced her with a new unmarked Queen. So sort of like Colleen's Royal Ruckus it was a little early to check on Queen acceptance or brood but it was worth checking to see if there was more drone brood or any queen cells coming from the open brood we moved over from Patrick's Pollinator to try and temper the workers from starting to lay. I must admit I could use a little help from the Bee Squad but they won't come out as far as we are to assist us. We have some crazy stuff going on inside the Turquoise Bee. I posted another video below showing what we found and having watched it a few times and in reviewing our records I remain completely stumped!
So to review the activity in The Turquoise Bee. We installed the package and within three weeks it was clear we had a drone laying Queen on our hands. All the capped brood was drone brood clear as day! We took the Queen out, put in a a frame of capped and open brood from Patrick's Pollinator and two days later we put in a new Queen. A week after putting in the new Queen we found the following: The frame from Patrick's Pollinator seems unchanged in that none of the brood was hatched. Typically worker cells are capped by day 9 and bees emerge somewhere between 18 and 22 days. On other frames we found capped cells that look too big, long and narrow to be drone brood in a very spotty pattern, on at least two frames, both sides. It is possible that our workers started laying but usually they will lay in a very sloppy pattern and will often lay more than one egg in a cell so that the drone brood is found in clusters close together. Here we have lots of isolated cells! At first blush I thought the cells were maybe queen cups which really perplexed me because we didn't have any fertilized eggs in that hive other than what may have come from Patrick's Pollinator but we didn't find these cells on that frame. Without fertilized cells the workers can't raise their own Queen. Again at first blush they look like the start of queen cups, peanut shell like with a rough texture and elongated. However they differ from typical queen cells in that they are not hanging vertically off the frame. Perhaps they are not finished. In all seriousness I am over my head with this hive and I am guessing, what ever is going on the outcome is not going to be good. Marla always says "When you don't know what is going on in the hive just leave the bees alone and they will sort things out". Well, work it out girls, work it out. In the mean time I scored another package of bees which is most unusual at this point in the season. Yep, I am a honey whore at heart and the idea of loosing a hive and maybe having a hive that isn't going to produce is more than I can take. They will arrive Friday. Hopefully by then we can size up The Turquoise Bee, get some reassurance about Colleen's Royal Ruckus and Katrina's Drone Den and set up a new hive.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
We had a brief window of good weather last night and were able to get Colleen's Royal Ruckus installed. These girls hale from California and arrived yesterday. We prefer to get our bees from Walter T. Kelley in Kentucky, mostly because the sell marked queens. However in order to get in on an early arrival date the bees have to be ordered in December and frankly we just don't know what our needs are going to be that early so we always error on the conservative side. This year of course we shorted ourselves on that order but as luck would have it we were able to get in on the California load just in the nick of time for one more package.
Paula's daughter, Kristen, an aspiring beekeeper joined us which was a blast. It is always fun to have new people come to the bee yard to check out the bees. I'd love to retire my nursing job and just take folks down to the bee yard all summer!
So we picked up the bees in Stillwater and headed to Northfield just as it was warming up a bit and the sun was poking through the clouds. It is a sad commentary when warming up in May is 45 degrees!
Paula and Kristen did most of the work, setting up the hive and Paula did a stellar job shaking the bees into the hive. I wish I had video because this was by far the best install we have ever done. Paula got darn near every bee in the hive. Usually we loose a few hundred but not last night! We released an unmarked queen without a hitch and then with a stoke of brilliance plugged up the hive with snow. The hive needs to be plugged for about 12-24 hours for the colony to get settled in their new digs. Today it is going to be 65 degrees so the snow will melt and I won't have to go back down to unplug the hive.
After we got Colleen's Royal Ruckus situated we turned our attention to The Turquoise Bee only to find the bees had not eaten through the candy cork. I am not exactly sure how long it usually takes them to do this, perhaps two days was not enough time but I am slightly eager to get that queen in there and make sure we don't turn the hive to drone with laying workers. So we released her ourselves after two days. Hopefully that was enough time for them to start accepting her, if not they may kill her. So keep your fingers crossed. The queen cage was covered with mild mannered bees and there were bees eating away at the cork so it seemed reasonable to just go ahead and release her. You can tell in the video that I am sort of on the fence about keeping the cage in another day to make sure she got out. It was so hard to see with so many bees attached to the cage. In the end we took it out.
You can also see I am not wearing my protective gear. I am hoping for a more relaxed wardrobe this year. It went just fine except for the plethora of bees flying up the sleeves of my jacket. I will keep you posted on the merits of this endeavor. More than likely I will be right back in it as soon as I see a tic. I have horrific tic phobia!
We also took a peek into Katrina's Drone Den to locate her queen. I was sort of disappointed in the lack of brood in there. This weather seems to be hampering the queens from laying. Next week looks to be warmer and hopefully dry.
Thursday, May 2, 2013
It is May 2nd, 2013 and last night we got another foot of snow. I simply can't tell you how weather weary I am. I am hearty stock, Minnesota born and raised. I learned to drive in the snow. I like the cold. I like snow. But people, I am sick and tired of it! In April alone we had at least four large snow storms. There isn't a single thing blooming, you can hardly detect green in the horizon. The snow has been relentless. I can count on one hand how many sunny days we have had since the first of February. I wasn't worried about the bees until recently. When we put them in on April 8th we filled the hive with combed out frames full pollen and some with honey into the hive. We put on pollen patties and syrup. Last Saturday I saw the bees bringing in large sacs of pollen despite the complete dearth. I was hopeful.
Now, I am getting worried and I have to remind myself what brought me to this endeavor. It isn't about the honey. It isn't about the honey. It isn't about the honey. My latest mantra, it isn't about the honey. I came here, to his hobby to temper my hyperactive spirit. To quite and center myself. I wanted a practice of mindfulness. I wanted to become more contemplative and deliberate. I didn't want honey.
After last years 20 gallon crop it is hard not to consider the honey. Here I am today festering in a sort of pathological manner about our honey yield. Will the absence of spring damper the bees activity. Will the Queens get confused and think its winter and stop laying? Will the workers kick out the drones as they do every fall? Will we even get a nectar flow? I am a worry wart. I am grateful for the few things going in our favor, completely drawn out comb so the bees can get right down to it if and when there is a nectar flow. Otherwise I am working hard not to ruminate about the honey and trying to focus on the other merits of beekeeping. After all we have no control over the weather or the outcome.
To that end, the other merits of beekeeping, we are trying desperately to rescue The Turquoise Bee from an ill fated demise. Today we headed into the bee yard blanketed in another foot or so of snow with a new Queen in hand to attempt a slow release. Bees are particular and they must adjust to and accept a new Queen. When our packages come a caged Queen has been traveling with them for 2 to 7 days. The workers have accepted her pheromone and she is ready to be released in the hive immediately. In our current situation we have to do what is called a slow release of a new Queen, placing the new Queen in her cage in the hive for a few days for the workers to accept her before she is released. If we just let her loose the workers would probably kill her.
We put on our shit kicker boots, lit the smoker and made our way to the hives though deep snow. You can see in the picture above just how much snow we had, now covering the hive covers and entrances. It was probably a good thing we went down to clear the entrances of snow so the bees can get out.
If it had been warmer I would have studied the bees in The Turquoise Bee before placing the Queen cage in the hive, reexamining to see if I could see workers laying. I am completely obsessed with this possibility as I am certain I saw workers laying on Tuesday. If that is the case our efforts may go to waste.
We opened the hive and honestly there seems to be a good population of bees even though they have not reproduced at all. The bees were in the center of the hive as I would expect. The bees cluster in a ball in the middle of the hive when it is cold, covering any brood to keep it warm. If brood freezes the hive will parish. I had completely forgotten we had moved a frame of brood from Patrick's Pollinator over to the Turquoise Bee. When I went to pull out a frame to make room for the caged Queen I had a moment of panic when I saw a frame full of brood, thinking we had made a huge mistake in removing a healthy Queen. It was a fleeting moment of panic and swearing but I quickly remembered the borrowed brood. Paula pried the cork out of the Queen cage with a nail exposing the candy cork and I put a little water on top of the candy to start softening it for the bees. We placed the Queen cage snugly between two frames in the middle of the hive, positioning her just below the top of the frame, actually pushing her into the comb candy cork up with the screen facing out so the bees can attend to and feed the Queen until they release her. It will take a few days for the bees to eat through the candy cork and release the Queen. We are getting another package of bees on Saturday so when we go down to put them into Royal Ruckus we will check to see how the release is going. Hopefully by then they will have released her, if not we will probably open the screen ourselves and release her.
We have never been in a snow covered bee yard so we took some time to just take in the sight, clear the hives of snow and peek in the other two just to see a little activity. It was too cold for the bees to be out. Once we finished Paula emptied the smoker into the snow and we enjoyed a little "campfire".
Paula shot a video of the caged Queen placement but be warned, when I first see all the brood in The Turquoise Bee I unleash a loud "fuck". I like to think I have a better vocabulary but fell short in this situation. So, if you are offended by swearing skip the video. The narrative is lacking in this particular video and we could have done a better job describing exactly what we were doing. We are still getting our juju on with these little snippets so bear with us.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
I was hoping for a season free of Queen drama. Lord knows we had our share of it last year. I will admit, part of my love for this hobby is the seemingly endless amount of learning to be had! I thought we had mastered Queen issues last year, seen it all, solved it all. Heck we even had two Queens in one hive for about a month. Go smoke on that one! And then along comes a drone laying Queen. So here we are with a complete dud in The Turquoise Bee.
She was a brand new queen but she acted like a old knackered thing, remaining rooted to the outside frames, wandering around aimlessly, like a frail aunt in her white dressing gown. Being a novice beekeeper is a lot like being a novice parent. There are manuals, but most of what you learn comes from actually interacting with the little darlings. So for as much as I have read, and I have read a lot, until you see it you don't really understand or appreciate it. Hindsight is a wonderful thing too, all the signs were there, I noticed them, even said them out loud but failed to take action until today and now I am hoping it isn't too late.
Not only was she frail and slender, without that plump protruding abdomen of a mated queen but she was a drone layer at that. She didn't lay much of anything and what she did lay was spotty spoiled drone brood. Now, I can't be sure it wasn't workers laying and in fact as I studied the bees today I am sure I saw a few workers stick their ass into cells and lay. However, having capped drone brood in a matter of 10 days after hiving the girls seems too soon for workers to start laying. My worry of course is that we let the situation go on too long and now the workers are in fact laying.
Workers depend on the pheromone of a queen and the pheromone of brood to know or think they are queen-right. If they they don't have brood or a queen or a healthy queen, in the hive eventually the lack of pheromone will stimulate their ovaries to lay unfertilized eggs. When this happens of course the hive goes to drone and without any reproductive capability the hive dies off. Catching and remediating laying workers is a huge challenge.
Our mission today was to get her out, assess the damage and make a plan. We have new Queen arriving tomorrow so we removed her today, creating the illusion of a queenless hive in preparation for the new Queen. We found her easily, on one of the outer frames, an odd place for a healthy Queen. Usually she will stay in the middle of the brood nest. Of course she has no brood nest. There was less spotty drone brood than a week ago so I suspect her condition was deteriorating. My eyes are 55 years old and I have zero ability to see eggs, much less appreciate the sloppy laying of workers who will deposit more than one egg in a cell, hit the wall instead of the center of the cell and so on. However as i studied the workers I did see what looked to me like laying activity. Hopefully if they are laying it has just started and we can turn the situation around.
We are hoping to trick the girls into thinking they have good brood pheromone. We took a nice frame of capped and uncapped brood from Patrick's Pollinator, our strongest hive to help The Turquoise Bee out. Hopefully they will get busy tending to the brood and notice their Queen is gone just in time for a new Queen which we will introduce on Thursday.
Keep your fingers crossed this beekeeping 305 and I am not sure we have it all right. Worse case we loose The Turquoise Bee which would make me very sad for any number of reasons. In the mean time I am sorting out the ethics of doing what needs to be done for the greater good at the expense of one. I was able to extract the Queen into a jar and took her home. She passed about an hour ago and I am going to keep her for show and tell. I am often asked to give little talks to school age kids about bees and beekeeping and she will make a great show and tell item. So for those of you struggling with the loss of life here just think of her as being reincarnated to academia.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
This weekend my friend Katriana was here to visit. Katrina won our hive naming contest two years ago. Little did she know when she came up with the name Drone Den she would be getting her very own colony of honey bees and a plethora of honey they produced at the end of the season.
Managing five hives is difficult, especially tracking all the activity in each colony. It became so much easier when we decided to give each hive a name to associate with their identity and activity. Finally, this weekend, after knowing each other via cyber space for some time now, we met and Katrina got to visit her bees.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. There was some activity outside the hives but not much. We got our protective clothing on, lit the smoker and headed into the bee yard. I love showing off the bees, especially to someone who really understands how important bees are to our agricultural system and food supply. Katrina is a expert in natural health foods and keenly interested in the link between bees and food sources. Plus she had total beekeeper zen! Calm, deliberate and thoughtful, perfect qualities for bee keeping!
We inspected her colony first, a good group of girls who's queen is just getting started in her laying. There wasn't a lot of brood but enough to make me happy. We easily spotted the queen, nice capped brood and we saw a few bees with pollen on their hind legs. That sight right now perplexes me. I don't know where the heck the girls are getting anything but I saw it plane as day, bright yellow and some dull brown sacs packed on the back legs of a few bees. Perhaps they have found some sawdust or some ground animal or bird feed, who knows. There is a dearth of pollen at the moment, not a single bud or bloom so likely they have found something to substitute. You can tell just by looking at the pictures how dearth it is! We have pollen substitute in the hives which the bees don't seem to be taking. It doesn't really matter though, the frames we are using from last year are packed with pollen so I know they are getting their protein. Anyway, it was fun to point out the sacs of pollen on the bees hind legs and to see the queen and some capped brood. We were even able to see some eggs.
We checked The Turquoise Bee next and while we found the queen my concern about her remains. I couldn't appreciate anything other than some spotty drone brood. A poorly mated queen will do this, lay drone brood which eventually will lead to the total demise of the colony. Sorry men, this is a world in which the girls rule! A drone laying queen is simply a reproductive mess and if she doesn't turn it around in the next few days she will have to go. I have never seen this problem before. We had a hive go to drone during our first year but that was because it went queenless and the workers started laying. I was hoping to get by without any queen drama this spring!
Finally Katrina smoked Patrick's Pollinator, probably the most active colony right now and we inspected her, found the queen and found a nice brood pattern underway. These are going to be some stellar girls, I can tell! I am really pleased with these girls and their queen, so far they are the best of the bunch!
I simply love taking people to the bee yard and finally getting met Katrina and introduce her to the bees was loads of fun!